Every elementary school student knows that the worst punishment is getting called out in front of the class. Whether it’s being forced to stand in the corner, perform, or write something 100 times on the blackboard (see, e.g., Bart Simpson), public humiliation can be an effective deterrent. (I was going to cite a recent post ranking the best Simpson blackboard gags, until I saw that my favorite — “I will not waste chalk” — was remarkably omitted.) In the attached clip, renowned schoolteacher June Crabtree provides a fine example of this effective method of deterrence.
Lately, courts and litigants have begun to realize that these old school punishments can be effective in dealing with lawyer misconduct. Frustrated by the apparent lack of impact that a monetary penalty can have on a wealthy corporation or large law firm, lawyers have been subject to increasingly creative — and humiliating — sanctions. You may have read about the Jones Day lawyer who was directed to write, produce and appear in a training video as sanction for obstructing a deposition. But that’s not the only one. As a sanction for improperly removing a case to federal court, a lawyer’s entire firm was ordered to attend a CLE about federal jurisdiction and Rule 11. And a litigant in Texas has asked a court there to require the plaintiff’s general counsel to personally attend every court hearing as a sanction for having filed a baseless cause of action.
While these individual sanctions may not seem particularly harsh, the sanctioned lawyers and law firms have another problem — the media loves this stuff. So while a $1,000 penalty may not garner much attention, an order directing lawyer to produce a CLE makes headlines. Notably, the judge didn’t identify the Jones Day lawyer in his opinion, but it didn’t take long for the press to figure out and plaster her name all over the internet. And who reads articles on the internet? Clients. And potential clients. And judges.
A lawyer’s (an a law firm’s) reputation in the courts and legal community is critical. So if a monetary sanction isn’t enough to make you think twice before engaging in borderline conduct, think about how your (and your firm’s) name will look in the lead story about a lawyer being ordered to post a video of himself on YouTube reciting a poem about the Rules of Professional Conduct.
As for pretty Miss Crabtree, Little Rascals fans may also associate this story line with the short in which Jackie Cooper tries (unsuccessfully) to put one over on the new schoolmarm (it seems Miss Crabtree had a bit of difficulty holding down a job). Personally, I prefer that one, but alas Miss Crabtree is much kinder to Jackie, making that clip a less effective vehicle for conveying today’s Tip. And young Jackie’s taking a ride from a stranger without a second thought seems oddly inappropriate for a Risk Tip. Enjoy it nonetheless.